Today at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference we announced a wide range of new Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS, capabilities for the Windows Azure Platform. The PDC is a fully virtualized event, so I invite you to visit the site and view the keynotes and sessions. But I wanted to also provide an overview of some of the news here on the blog, offer my perspective and direct you to additional information resources. (In particular, I recommend you read a short white paper we just published about Windows Azure AppFabric.)

I’m going to focus on the new services announced for SQL Azure and Windows Azure AppFabric middleware that enable developers to build powerful and unique business applications. Windows Azure also has some new announcements, to learn more you should check out their blog.

Certainly a top priority for us is to help developers improve productivity and take their applications to market faster. Developers often spend a majority of their time managing and enhancing their applications, so we are equally focused on providing developer solutions that span the entire lifecycle of an app. We think this focus and what we’re delivering against it really sets apart our approach and technology.

That said, it begins with solutions for rapid development through building-block services.

We continually roll out more PaaS services which abstract the Windows Azure Platform environment and minimize development complexity. These building block services are open and interoperable across languages (.NET, Java, Ruby, PHP and others), and provide a powerful, pre-built “class library” that you can just provision, configure and use. No installation or management of machines or instances required.

Today, we delivered community technology previews of new and enhanced services for Windows Azure AppFabric, our cloud middleware platform for developing, deploying and managing business applications.

  • New Caching service will help you accelerate performance of Windows Azure and SQL Azure apps with distributed, in-memory application cache.
  • Enhanced Service Bus service will help ensure reliable, enterprise-quality delivery of messages to third-parties or mobile devices with durable messaging.
  • Enhanced Access Control service will allow you to federate identity from Active Directory, Windows Live ID, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. with new protocol support, including OAuth WRAP, WS-Trust, WS-Federation protocols; SAML 1.1, SAML 2.0, and Simple Web Token.

See the Windows Azure AppFabric blog for more information.

In addition to these building blocks, we announced new Windows Azure AppFabric capabilities providing an end-to-end composite application environment. Our goal here is to help developers streamline the process of assembling various home-grown and third party services and to provide more sophisticated deployment and management capabilities that span the web, middle tier and database in the cloud.

Coming in the first half of next year:

  • AppFabric Composition Model and Visual Tools will enable you to compose applications on the Windows Azure platform with extensions to the .NET Framework, building on the familiar Azure Service Model and adding new capabilities for describing all of an app’s components. You will be able to assemble code elements from your existing application with new cloud services and tie them all together through a new Visual Studio-based designer experience.
  • AppFabric Composite App service allows you to take the Composition Model and automate the deployment, configuration, control, monitoring, troubleshooting, reporting and optimization of an application without the usual manual steps with a multi-tenant, managed service.

Both of the AppFabric building block services and new composite app capabilities are built on a shared AppFabric Container application infrastructure which ensures scale out, availability, multi-tenancy and sandboxing of your application components with a high-performance runtime Container optimized for cloud-scale services and mid-tier components. It uses embedded caching for high-performance data and persistence management.

Today we also introduced several new SQL Azure capabilities:

  • SQL Azure Reporting CTP:  SQL Azure Reporting enables developers to enhance their applications by embedding cloud based reports on information stored in a SQL Azure database, thereby allowing the users of these applications to gain greater insight on their line of business data without having to worry about setting up machines or instances.  Developers can author reports using familiar SQL Server Reporting Services tools and then use these reports in their applications which may be on-premises or in the cloud.
  • SQL Azure Data Sync CTP 2:  At PDC we are also announcing an update to SQL Azure Data Sync to enable synchronization of entire databases or specific tables between on-premises SQL Server and SQL Azure,  giving customers greater flexibility in building solutions that span on-premises and the cloud. Customers can now synchronize SQL Azure databases across datacenters as well as with on-premises SQL Server.
  • Database manager for SQL Azure: As part of the Windows Azure platform developer portal refresh which will be available by the end of the year, we are announcing a new lightweight, web-based database management and querying capability for SQL Azure databases. This capability was formerly referred to as “Project Houston”, and allows customers to have a streamlined experience within the web browser without having to download any tools.

At PDC, customers can immediately register to get more information about the new capabilities. Limited CTP programs of the new SQL Azure Reporting and Data Sync services will be available by end of year 2010. Invitations to participate and try out the services will be sent as we continue to build out capacity.

To learn more, I encourage you to visit the SQL Azure blog for more details.

One of the most exciting new building block services is DataMarket (formerly Project “Dallas.”) Commercially available today, it is part of the new Windows Azure Marketplace and enables developers to easily discover, purchase, and manage data of all types – media, relational, real-time web services and more. DataMarket APIs enable developers to use “data-as-a-service” via Visual Studio, making it easy for them to utilize the datasets. SDKs are available for .NET, Silverlight, Ajax, iOS, Java, PHP, and Ruby. Already there are more than 35 data providers offering subscriptions on DataMarket. Visit the DataMarket blog for more information.

Wow – that was a lot…! When you look across all of the innovative new PaaS capabilities announced this week, across both the building block services as well as the new composite application innovation for rapidly developing, deploying and managing your application – there are a lot of exciting new benefits for both developers and IT Pros alike. Furthermore, it builds in the ongoing ability to more quickly and rapidly respond to customer feedback and competitive change – not just building the app, but also getting to a next version and continuing to innovate. This is true differentiation and sustainable advantage that sets you apart from the rest of the pack!